“The Gigantic and Intricate Machinery of the County Government”: The Annual Report of the Board of Supervisors, County of Los Angeles, Fiscal Year Ending 30 June 1927, Part One

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As required by the state’s political code, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors issued an annual report, addressed “To The Taxpayer” (though one wonders how many of these actually saw the document), for the fiscal year ending on the last day of June 1927, with it being tonight’s highlighted object from the museum’s collection.

As a brief introduction stated before the new inclusion of departmental reports, beyond the statistical data found previously, the addition “will convey to the reader not only a more comprehensive idea of the variety and magnitude of the business conducted by the County and the gigantic and intricate machinery of the County government,” but it aimed to deliver practical information that was “more easily understood than a perusal of statistical and financial statements.”

First, however, was a directory of county officials beginning with portraits of the supervisors, who numbered five then, as was the case 75 years before when the first board, including F.P.F. Temple, son-in-law of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman, was seated, and which is still now—even as the population has grown by enormous leaps and bounds over the last 170 years.

The chair was Reuben F. McClellan (1859-1930), a Maine native and surveyor who made his fortune in Yukon mining and came to Los Angeles in 1904, where he became a banker in the Palms/Sawtelle area and won election to the board in 1916, serving until his death while in his fourth term of office. Fred T. Beaty (1886-1937), by contrast, hailed from Nebraska, was a Montebello resident and a publisher, and served just a single term from 1926 to 1930. Though his official board biography stated that he was a mayor of Los Angeles before becoming a supervisor, this was not the case.

Jack H. Bean (1864-1931) was from New York and came to the Angel City in the mid-Nineties and became a successful building contractor. He was a member of the Los Angeles City Board of Education before securing election to the board in 1918 and completing ten years of service, with his professional background being particularly useful for county building projects. Henry W. Wright (1868-1948) hailed from Iowa and was a realtor after settling in Los Angeles in 1904. A member of the state Assembly from 1914 to 1920, he was appointed to the board the following year and then was elected twice more, serving from 1921 to 1930.

Then there was Sidney T. Graves (1882-1958), whose official county biography is scanty on details, not even having his years of birth and death, but who was from Missouri, settled with his family in Alhambra, and worked in his father’s planing mill and contracting business. Graves also served in the state Assembly, in this case in the early 1920s, before winning a seat on the board in 1926.

Like Beaty, he was a one-term supervisor, but managed to distinguish himself, even in an era rife with local political corruption, by getting into major legal trouble over bribes involving a dam project in San Gabriel Canyon. He was convicted in state court on the bribery rap and served nearly four years from 1934-1938 on a 1-10 year sentence at San Quentin and then was found guilty of federal tax evasion on the bribery and followed his stint at San Quentin by serving time at McNeil Island in Washington and Terminal Island here in San Pedro before being released by 1940.

Among other officials in the directory were those of the Board of Education; Civil Service Commission; Bureau of Efficiency; Public Welfare Commission; Regional Planning Commission; Probation Committee; and the Lunacy Commission (whose first assistant psychopathic parole officer was Harry J. Brown, who later operated El Encanto Sanitarium at the Homestead from 1940 until his death seven years later.) One of the doctors working with this commission was Dr. Henry G. Brainerd, a pioneer neurologist and psychiatrist in the Angel City.

Also listed were judges of the superior and municipal courts, with future Los Angeles mayor Fletcher Bowron at the Long Beach branch of the former and the first woman judge, Georgia P. Bullock, in the criminal division of the latter. County justices of the peace, including F.E. Quigley of Puente for the Rowland Township, and constables, with Gratian Bidart of Puente for the same township, were also included.

There were fifty-six county departments, including for county architect; bee inspector; cemetery; charities; district attorney (Asa Keyes, who also wound up in San Quentin for bribery); flood control; jail; museum (today’s Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County); Olive View Sanatorium in Sylmar; the Otis Art Institute (affiliated with the museum); outdoor poor relief; road commissioner; sheriff; superintendent of schools; tax and license collector; treasurer (F.P.F. Temple held this position, despite his failed bank and personal bankruptcy, from 1876-1878), and visual education, among others.

With departmental reports, the auditor noted that there were collections of about $16.5 million from school funds; auto license taxes and motor vehicle registrations; a state gas tax; tax redemptions and others. The treasurer reported on the amount of deposits and warrants handled and the number of bonds issued for improvements, noting, as well, that there were “over 300 banks in which we had deposits of public funds,” with interest of almost $1.75 million.

For the assessor, there were over 730,000 real and personal property statements filed and appraised and total taxes collected totaling over $6,666,000. The tax collector reported almost 1.5 million taxable items with charges of just north of $94 million, while there were over 112,000 listings on the delinquent tax rolls constituting “a normal increase of 7.5%” from the prior year. Over 825,000 bills were issued and not quite 19,000 occupation licenses issued. In all, nearly 1.2 million tax payments were recorded in the cash book.

The district attorney’s office, the second largest in the country (after New York), took an average of 400 complaints and interviewed some 1,500 persons per month. Enforcement for the Wright Act governing Prohibition enforcement involved the arrest of over 1,000 persons and, from those convicted, fines collected totaled about $100,000. With respect to criminal business, it was reported that since the first of 1927, there were over 1,300 persons sent to San Quentin and Folsom state prisons, and just under half, or 669, were from the country. For parole requests, there were 1,058 persons who applied and 374 were granted, while 461 were denied.

For the period covering 10 October 1926 to 25 June 1927, there were almost 40,000 persons interviewed by the office, almost 11,000 investigations conducted, aboe 3,000 complaints issued with 62 indictments returned. Over 2,700 preliminary hearings were held, with 285 cases tried in the superior courts. Of these, there were 185 convictions and 76 acquittals, while two dozen cases were mistrials. Not quite 1,200 persons decided to plead guilty and forego or bring to an end trials.

An architectural rendering of Olive View Sanatorium in Sylmar.

The county counsel report noted that the office handled all representation and advice to the board and county officials, adding that there were filings for 37 bond elections involving over $7 million among the 132 elementary and 26 high school districts. Moreover, there were 326 contracts valued at over $5.5 million handled for the Los Angeles Board of Education and outstanding bonds for the county’s school districts was just south of $100 million. Also noteworthy were 34 flood control projects, something that took on great importance after floods about a decade before, and which involved about $772,000, while other legal work involved securing rights-of-way, including by eminent domain.

The office also processed almost 80 new ordinances passed by the supervisors and it was highlighted that a state supreme court decision in 1926 allowing for tax assessments of railway rights-of-way for flood control and other special assessments meant that almost $32 million was added to the county’s tax rolls. For tax refund claims, there were some 6,400 of these allowed, though the amounts were generally small totaling some $136,000. Litigation concerning private property leased to a public utility and whether this was exempt from taxation was also handled, though the matter was on appeal to the state and national supreme courts.

Reference was also made to the Acqusition and Improvement Act of 1925, commonly called “The Mattoon Act,” and which provided for assessments in special districts for water, drainage, cemetery, library, sanitation, lighting, fire protection and other purposes in unincorporated communities. The counsel’s office reviewed the over 240 districts created and it should be noted that the Town of Temple, founded four years before by Walter P. Temple and associates, was subject to the act. When it was understood that a property owner could be held liable for the assessments of a delinquent neighbor, however, sales of lots in such areas plummeted and the act was later repealed.

The county counsel also handled county contracts for public works, reviewed and approved all 145,000 warrants totaling over $20 million presented to the county, and handled over 360 court cases, with the vast majority (262) filed against the county, and the value of the disputes approaching $1 million, while another 84 cases involved county condemnation filings for property of several million dollars.

The public defender and eight deputies acted on behalf of almost 2,000 defendants, with about 70% of these involving felonies and more than 5,000 appearances in the superior court logged. In 118 felony trials at that court, there were 44 not guilty verdicts, while for 96 preliminary examinations, with nine dismissed, 68 held to answer before a court, and nineteen disposed of without needing an examination.

As a whole, of the defendants represented, 940 pled guilty with most pleading to the original charge and a little more than 10% agreeing to a plea on a lesser change. About equal numbers were granted (333) and denied (336) probation, while 124 cases were stricken from the calendar for reasons not stated and another 106 dismissed outright. Those who were sentenced included 249 to San Quentin, 59 to Folsom, 108 to the Preston School of Industry, a reform school southeast of Sacramento which existed from 1890 to 2011, and 279 to the county jail.

Civil matters involved over 18,000 applications for assistance, with over 4,000 refused because they had the means to afford an attorney or because the office had no authority to represent them. Over 12,000 were given legal advice and another 2,000 or so had financial claims which were handled by the office. Most were settled without the filing of suits, so that there were just under 100 of these examples. Over 70% were won, with just 2 lost, 5 settled before trial began and 17 remained undisposed of at the time of the report.

Also of note was the report of the county surveyor, which dealt with surveys, maps, design of sewers and storm drains and other tasks. Surveys conducted during the year totaled almost 150 and some of the major ones listed included such projects as Manchester Avenue from City of Los Angeles limits to the ocean, near modern Los Angeles International Airport; Normandie Avenue south from Manchester to San Pedro; Bonita Avenue from the San Gabriel River to Grand Avenue through parts of the eastern San Gabriel Valley; Glendora Mountain Road in the lower San Gabriel Mountain range; Venice Boulevard from Culver City to Venice; La Brea Avenue from Los Angeles to Inglewood; and Western Avenue from Torrance to San Pedro.

There were also projects like Las Tunas Drive from San Gabriel Boulevard east to the San Gabriel River, including through the Town of Temple (renamed Temple City the following year), and “which is a part of the Arrow Highway project.” This effort sought to build a “straight” roadway, hence “Arrow,” from Los Angeles to San Bernardino, though only parts of that thoroughfare were eventually completed. Also liste as the “Whittier Sky Line Road” from Whittier to Pomona, though it is unclear if this wound up being Colima Road, considered at one time an extension of Fifth Street from Los Angeles and called “Fifth Avenue” at one time, or a road that was to run along the peak of the Puente Hills—there is a Skyline Road in parts of La Habra Heights now.

Discussion of acquisition and improvement districts; subdivision maps, of which there were 638 and all but 47 recorded; title registration; ornamental lights; and voting precinct maps were also discussed. Totals for work done on easements, voundaries, deds, petitions, incorporations and annexations, street name changes and other items were also provided, as well as some detail on over 1,500 title searches involving over 13,500 parcels.

A photo of the Malibu Creek bridge.

Some brief summaries about the opening and widening of streets; financial reporting; establishing house numbers in such communities as Michillinda east of Pasadena; Willowbrook, Watts, Bellflower, Clearwater (Paramount), and other areas; the remaking of assessor map books with nearly 9,000 new items and over 43,000 alterations; and handling of sewers, with 25 new districts for 1056 buildings on 1,850 acres and three new water systems, while over 3,100 new house permits and a couple hundred more in inspection phase.

In the miscellaneous category, it was reported that “there were 57 surveys and maps for the District Attorney in murder cases” with three used as exhibits in cases “and consisted of showing all physical objects and characteristics in their proper relation at or near the scene of the crime.” Meanwhile, we’ll continue our survey of this fact-filled report tomorrow, so please check back for more great material on the state of Los Angeles County in 1927.

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